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Time Stops on Watch Island


April's TI Life listed Watch Island on the "Properties" page where we post important properties of the region that are for sale or seasonal rental. A few weeks earlier, I began creating my real estate property presentation webpage and suddenly I was deeply involved with the Walter Jerome Green Jr. family. The more I researched this island located between Clayton and Fisher's Landing in the main Seaway Channel, the more I realized how important it is to see beyond a photograph or a biography and how quickly one gets engrossed in Thousand Islands history.

The large summer home on Watch Island was built in 1903 by Walter Jerome Green, Jr. of Utica, NY. and remained in the family until 1998 when the Colangelo and Strine family purchased the island and began its restoration. It is truly a treasure of the Thousand Islands region that has ties to the early days of the Gilded Age.

I first learned that Walter Green's father, Walter Jerome Green Sr., was a prominent Utica banker as well as railroad man. He was a founder of the Jacksonville, St. Augustine and Halifax River Railroad which successfully connected important fruit producing regions of Florida with the Northeast markets.

When Walter Green Sr. died at the young age of 42 in 1885 the railroad was sold to  Henry M. Flagler. Anyone who studies Florida history  can become consumed with material relating to the Flagers. Flager, who later completed the line all the way to Key West, was a Rockefeller partner in Standard Oil and known as the "Father of Miami and West Palm Beach". The proceeds of the sale were kept in trust for Green's young son (Walter, Jr.) who was only nine at the time of his father's death.

Walter Jerome Green Jr. had an impressive career of his own.  He, like his father, became a prominent Banker but he was also employed by the Savage Arms Company for 25 years, and at one time was Vice President. He was President of Utica Investment Company, President Utica City National Bank and Director of First National Bank and Trust Company.

Knowing Walter Green lived in Utica, I visited that city in late winter and met with the Landmarks Society of Greater Utica. Landmark Society's are created in many towns and cities across the United states. They work tirelessly to research important buildings to capture the architectural history and the social character of a neighborhood. Often their research leads to nominations to the National Register of Historic Places.  Walter Green's residence is on the Historic Register. 

 

1 Rutger Park, Utica NY 3 Rutger Park, Utica NY

Left: Number 1 Rutger Park. home of Water Green Jr. and Number 3 Rutger Park, home of Roscoe Conkling, Senator of New York.  Both 1 and 3 Rutger Park are currently owned by the Landmarks Society of Greater Utica.  The Society is looking into ways to restore and preserve both structures.  Click here for details.  Photos Courtesy  of Landmarks Society of Greater Utica.

I learned that Water Green resided at 1 Rutger Park, which had previously been owned by Samuel Remington of Remington Arms. Walter Jr. lived in the house from age 4 (1880) years until his death in 1951. The Green's neighbor at Rutger Park was Roscoe Conkling, Senator from New York who was referred to as "The power behind the throne", referring to the Presidency of U. S. Grant, 1869-1877. Conkling was also personal friends and mentor of the 21st President of the United States Chester Arthur 1881-1885. Conkling's Mansion at Rutger Park was the location of important parties that were attended by the likes of Generals U.S. Grant, Sherman and Hooker of the Civil war who went on to careers in the Railroad industry and government service after the war.

The name Ulysses S. Grant, is familiar to historically minded Thousand Islanders as the catalyst that started a rush of development in the Thousand Islands region after he drew attention to it with his visit in August 1872. Also President Chester Arthur visited the Islands  in 1882 with photographer Mathew Brady.

Walter Jerome Green was what Paul Malo would have referred to as a patrician - (member of original citizen family - according to Encyclopedia of Biography of New York, by Charles Elliott Fitch.) The Greens were related to General Nathanel Greene of Revolutionary war fame. Fitch also indicated the family has ties back to the Mayflower.

Mary Jane Hubbard Green (Walter Green's Jr.'s mother) was descended from Captain Abraham Swartwout who provided the blue from his cloak for the making of the first American Flag to fly from a colonial military post in battle.  The flag was made at Fort Stanwix and was unfurled August 3, 1777.

Water Green's granddaughter married former Secretary of State James Baker.  Baker led presidential campaigns for Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan and  George W.H. Bush. The Bakers vacationed at Watch Island.

No research of the Thousand Islands is complete without watercraft. In early April (this year) I traveled to Clayton and visited with the Thousand Islands Museum. It was there I learned that Walter Jerome Green, Jr. was a popular sailor.  He served as Rear Commodore of the Frontenac Yacht Club where he sailed his 75' Yacht named Verdi. 

The ship was built in 1909 at Morris Heights, N.Y. by the Charles L. Seabury Company with engines built by the Gas Engine and Power Company.  In June 1917 the US Navy acquired the boat and gave it the identification number: SP-979. It is listed in Naval records as "home ported during her civilian service at Clayton, NY on the St. Lawrence River." The Verdi (SP-979) was assigned section patrol duties with the 9th Naval District. She served in the Great Lakes through the armistice of 11 November 1918, which ended World War I, and was returned to her owner on 4 December 1918.

The Verdi continued to sail on the St. Lawrence until 1935 when she burned along with the boathouse at Watch Island. 

In the course of researching Watch Island I've observed the close association between the men of industry from that era. It is apparent that many of the largest property owners of the region, George Boldt (Boldt Castle), Charles Emery (Calumet Castle),  George Pullman (Castle Rest), Walter Green (Watch Island), Samuel Vandergrift (Long Rock Island), William Wyckoff (Carleton Villa) and Nathan Strauss (Cherry Island) all knew each other.

George Pullman hosted President U. S. Grant for a highly publicized visit to the Thousand Islands which spurred development to bring others from the inner circle that ran this country in those days.  The study of Watch Island and Walter Green, Jr. is an interesting and well documented view of those inner circles.

By Mike Franklin MikeFranklin@ThousandIslandsLife.com

See www.WatchIslandClaytonNY.com for more details.
Special thanks for the cooperation in putting this story together by Landmarks Society of Greater Utica (Mike Bosak and Mike Kershaw)  and the Thousand Islands Museum, Clayton, NY.  (Peter Strouse and Norm Wagner)

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Comments

Adams McHenry
Comment by: Adams McHenry ( )
Left at: 5:19 PM Friday, May 15, 2009
Mike, it appears as though you did a thorough study of Watch Island with all the facts you have shown. It was quite a summer home for my Grandfather and his residence at One Rutger Park was a unique home as well. He had a beautiful organ and there was an elevator and a turntable in the garage as automobiles did not have a reverse gear in the beginning.

Thanks again for your fine article. I look forward to meeting you this summer when we are up there.

Adams McHenry
Andy Richardson
Comment by: Andy Richardson ( )
Left at: 1:09 AM Wednesday, May 20, 2009
Mike, your article was wonderful. It was quite a history lesson for me. I have many fond memories of "Watch", the "Main Shore" and "the River" growing up as a child with parents, aunts, uncles and many cousins (McHenry, Kincaid, Baker). Because of your article I will be able to educate and excite my children to re-visit their heritage. We will be visiting "the River" in summer of 2010.

Thanks again

Andy Richardson, son of Marylowery Kincaid (deceased)
Wm. & Lois Pinkney
Comment by: Wm. & Lois Pinkney ( )
Left at: 6:34 PM Wednesday, May 20, 2009
As rare book dealers, 9 or so, years ago Mr. McHenry invited us to look over the Watch Island Library as they were selling the place. As with many island properties theft was an insurmountable problem. He came across the river and picked us up at our rental in Fine View. After an afternoon of looking and buying, he bought us , and the books back. In 45 plus years of book buying this was our first water borne purchase. The McHenrys' were most hospital and we thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
Walt Kincaid
Comment by: Walt Kincaid ( )
Left at: 11:46 AM Thursday, May 21, 2009
I enjoyed the article as well.

As an endnote, a smaller, Verdi II comfortably resides in Quadikin Island's boat house down the river in Alexandria Bay

Best,
Walter Jerome Green Kincaid
Ernest Ruterman
Comment by: Ernest Ruterman ( )
Left at: 3:12 PM Tuesday, May 26, 2009
Susan
Keep up the great work
Ad McHenry
Comment by: Ad McHenry ( )
Left at: 5:40 PM Tuesday, May 26, 2009
Mike,

I really enjoyed your article about my great grandfather, Walter Jerome Green, Jr. The best times of my life were spent at Watch Island and the dock cletes for the Verdi are still on the dock. I look forward to meeting you the next time that I am up in the Thousand Islands.

All the Best!

Ad McHenry
Mary Stuart McHenry Hagood
Comment by: Mary Stuart McHenry Hagood ( )
Left at: 6:20 PM Tuesday, May 26, 2009
Mike,

You did an exceptional job of writing about Watch Island! I hope people are able to view this property with as much wonder and amazement as it deserves.

I always loved hearing stories about 'Great Granddaddy Green' while spending childhood summers on the island and I would pour through old scrapbooks of WJG, Jr., his wife Mary Stuart (I'm the 5th of 7 in the family) and young daughter Mary Stuart who died on her 4th birthday.

We would watch old footage from my father's (Albert J. McHenry) era and listen to stories of my grandfather (Adams C. McHenry) setting the boathouse on fire while changing a battery in a speedboat.

Although I now reside on the opposite coast, I one day intend to take my family to Watch Island to show them the splendor of the area.
Thanks for allowing me to re-visit!
Mike Murphy
Comment by: Mike Murphy ( )
Left at: 3:41 PM Wednesday, May 27, 2009
My wife, son and I had the pure pleasure of a vacation on Watch Island with Adams McHenry and his family. We learned much history and you have completed the story. The story brings back fond memories of the time on the island with the McHenry's.
Marisa Priore Kincaid
Comment by: Marisa Priore Kincaid ( )
Left at: 2:17 PM Thursday, June 4, 2009
This article is amazing and extremely historical. I don't think my husband (Christopher Totten Kincaid, from the Utica, NY area) knows the half of the history in his family. I am a history buff and love to know all this stuff. Although I married into the Kincaid family, I am now able share this information with my children. My first time seeing Watch Island was in 1986 and we weren't able to get on the island because James Baker was there @ the same time. We are planning a trip back there in August. Thanks again for all the info.

Marisa Priore Kincaid (married Christopher Kincaid, son of Carleton Kincaid, now resides in Whittier, CA.)
Carleton G Kincaid
Comment by: Carleton G Kincaid ( )
Left at: 11:06 AM Sunday, November 15, 2009
I completely enjoyed reading this article. My mother was one of Walter J Green daughters. We would spend all of our summers either at Watch Island or on the mainland facing the island. During the winter months living in Utica, my sister and I would have sunday dinner with my grandparents at their home at ! rutger park. I am a new subscriber to "Thousandisland Life" and really enjoy it. It brings back wonderful memories. Thankspp
Carleton G Kincaid
Comment by: Carleton G Kincaid ( )
Left at: 11:07 AM Sunday, November 15, 2009
I completely enjoyed reading this article. My mother was one of Walter J Green daughters. We would spend all of our summers either at Watch Island or on the mainland facing the island. During the winter months living in Utica, my sister and I would have sunday dinner with my grandparents at their home at ! rutger park. I am a new subscriber to "Thousandisland Life" and really enjoy it. It brings back wonderful memories. Thankspp
Meghan Richardson
Comment by: Meghan Richardson ( )
Left at: 7:48 PM Saturday, January 16, 2010
Dear Mike,
I found your article to be so enlightening and brought much of my family history to life for me. I am the granddaughter of Marylowery Kincaid, who was the daughter of Walter Green Jr. I had the pleasure of visiting watch island as a young girl, I am hoping to re-visit for a family gathering in August 2010. It would be a pleasure to meet you. I am sure you could enlighten me more about my family history, things that my grandmother would be sharing with me today if she were still alive. Thank you for such a nice article I cannot wait to share this with my dad, Michael Richardson.

Bo Muller
Comment by: Bo Muller ( )
Left at: 10:06 PM Tuesday, April 6, 2010
I am researching a boat which I own that is supposed to have come from Watch Island. I purchased it from Norman Weber who said he got it from a dear friend on Watch Island in the thousand Islands. It was built by Charles Estes who was a TI builder of some renown. As the boat is circa 1900 might it have belonged to Mr Green. It came to me with oars and in fair condition. Now it is restored in its full beauty. Any information would be appreciated.

Sincerely
Bo Muller
Mike Murphy
Comment by: Mike Murphy ( )
Left at: 2:07 PM Wednesday, April 7, 2010
I have no information on this boat. I suggest you contact Adams McHenry through this article and maybe he can help you. His comment on the article appears at the top of the list of the comments.
Anonymous User
Comment by: Anonymous User
Left at: 4:07 PM Tuesday, November 26, 2013
http://oneidacountyhistory.wordpress.com/2013/11/26/mr-greens-gentlemans-gentleman/
Anonymous
Comment by: Anonymous
Left at: 7:36 PM Saturday, December 14, 2013
Hello, just wanted to note that Mary Jane Hubbard Green was the mother of Walter Jerome Green Senior, not Junior. Walter Jerome Green Junior's mother was indeed descended from Captain Abraham Swartwout, etc.- her name was Sarah Ketelhuyn Swartwout Green. Great article! :-)
Drew Wright
Comment by: Drew Wright ( )
Left at: 8:35 PM Friday, July 25, 2014
Hello,

My parents had a summer place on Blind Bay in the 1970's through the 1980's. My brothers and I all learned to waterski on Blind Bay near Watch Island. I recall the home on Watch Island as a prominent landmark in the area. My parents loved fishing right in the bay in sight of the island. My recollection is that both the house and the boathouse were dark green in those days. I also seem to remember the roof lines and gables being somewhat more distinctive in those days....(perhaps I am mistaken on that point, but that is my recollection)

My father is a WWII veteran who turns 90 this month. My mother is 87. I was able to take my father out on the river for an afternoon last summer. Unfortunately, traveling difficulties may render that visit to be his last.

I have been searching for a painting or photograph of the house and island as my parents and I remember it from the 1970's. I desire it as a birthday gift for my father. During a recent visit to the area with my family, I visited Conlins, the museum in Clayton, as well as all of the art shops in Clayton and Alex Bay. Unfortunately, the few images that I found were more modern era (I.e. since restoration).

If anyone can provide suggestions as to where I may be able to find such an image or painting of the house and island from he 1970's era, it would be greatly appreciated.
William Christopherson
Comment by: William Christopherson
Left at: 8:37 AM Sunday, August 28, 2016
I used to troll by Watch Island when living in Fishers Landing, 1984-88.

I recall the home was painted green.

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